With 90 registered participants, Stephenville has long been a provincial hot spot for taekwondo in the province.
But things are about to get kicked up a notch as the Stephenville Taekwondo Club hosts a two-day celebration to mark its 40th anniversary.
Things get underway this evening with a national refereeing course to be taken by those going for the black belt exam over the weekend.
Saturday morning the second part of the exam begins and will include a seminar with basic kicks, blocks, board breaks and taekwondo form. Following another seminar that afternoon, the event wraps up with a presentation of belts, as well as a supper and dance.
Grand Master Chong Lee of Montreal will be on hand throughout the weekend, as will St. John’s Jasmine Vokey, who won a bronze medal for Canada at the Taekwondo World Championships in 2013.
Master Wayne Simon is an instructor with the group and has been a member since Master Warren Chan founded the club in 1974.
Prior to joining, he was involved with karate, but a head injury led to a suggestion from an instructor that taekwondo might offer a better opportunity for rehabilitation.
Simon and others took over the task of running the club when Chan stepped aside in 1977.
Since that time, he said he’s come to appreciate benefits of the discipline — rewards he admits stretch far beyond the mat.
“The discipline and the confidence in the things you do is amazing,” Simon said Wednesday, adding some children with moderate disabilities often benefit from taekwondo as well.
His background in taekwondo also came in handy during his 30-year career as a prison guard — just not in the way you’d think. Simon said it was a major deterrent to inmates stepping out of line.
“After people know you’re involved with martial arts, they sort of ease away,” he said with a chuckle.
Getting people to ease away was exactly what Dwayne Russell had in mind when he joined the club in 1985.
At the time, the 11-year-old signed up after being beat up by other children.
Now 41 and a master in his own right, Russell said he’s been hooked ever since.
“I went in with my friends and fell in love with the sport,” Russell said. “Thirty years later, it’s still a big part of my life.”
If Simon has his way, taekwondo could soon become an even bigger part of Russell’s life.
Simon said after decades helping run the club along with Master Leon Benoit, he’s considering soon handing the reins to Russell.
While he plans to remain involved and to help when needed, the 61-year-old said it’s time to step aside.
“He’s only a young buck so we figure we should pass the school over to him,” he said of Russell. “He’s going to be there for another 40 years, so maybe it’s time for him to run the show.”